The Martian was now disquieted. “You say it is over that way?”
“There are the rockets.” Tomás walked him to the edge of the hill and pointed down. “See?”
“Damn it, there they are! Those long silver things.”
Now Tomás laughed. “You’re blind!”
“I see very well. You are the one who does not see.”
“But you see the new town, don’t you?”
“I see nothing but an ocean, and water at low tide.”
“Mister, that water’s been evaporated for forty centuries.”
“Ah, now, now, that is enough.”
“It’s true, I tell you.”
The Martian grew very serious. “Tell me again. You do not see the city the way I describe it? The pillars very white, the boats very slender, the festival lights—oh, I see them clearly! And listen! I can hear them singing. It’s no space away at all.”
Tomás listened and shook his head. “No.”
“And I, on the other hand,” said the Martian, “cannot see what you describe. Well.”
Again they were cold. An ice was in their flesh.
“Can it be … ?”
“You say ‘from the sky’?”
“Earth, a name, nothing,” said the Martian. “_But_ … as I came up the pass an hour ago … ” He touched the back of his neck. “I felt … ”
“Cold again. Oddly. There was a thing to the light, to the hills, the road,” said the Martian. “I felt the strangeness, the road, the light, and for a moment I felt as if I were the last man alive on this world …”
“So did I!” said Tomás, and it was like talking to an old and dear friend, confiding, growing warm with the topic.
The Martian closed his eyes and opened them again. “This can only mean one thing. It has to do with Time. Yes. You are a figment of the Past!”
“No, you are from the Past,” said the Earth Man, having had time to think of it now.
“You are so certain. How can you prove who is from the Past, who from the Future? What year is it?”
“Two thousand and one!”
“What does that mean to me?”
Tomás considered and shrugged. “Nothing.”
“It is as if I told you that it is the year 4462853 S.E.C. It is nothing and more than nothing! Where is the clock to show us how the stars stand?”
“But the ruins prove it! They prove that I am the Future, I am alive, you are dead!”
“Everything in me denies this. My heart beats, my stomach hungers, my mouth thirsts. No, no, not dead, not alive, either of us. More alive than anything else. Caught between is more like it. Two strangers passing in the night, that is it. Two strangers passing. Ruins, you say?”
“Yes. You’re afraid?”
“Who wants to see the Future, who ever does? A man can face the Past, but to think—the pillars crumbled, you say? And the sea empty, and the canals dry, and the maidens dead, and the flowers withered?” The Martian was silent, but then he looked on ahead. “But there they are. I see them. Isn’t that enough for me? They wait for me now, no matter what you say.”
And for Tomás the rockets, far away, waiting for him, and the town and the women from Earth. “We can never agree,” he said.
“Let us agree to disagree,” said the Martian. “What does it matter who is Past or Future, if we are both alive, for what follows will follow, tomorrow or in ten thousand years. How do you know that those temples are not the temples of your own civilization one hundred centuries from now, tumbled and broken? You do not know. Then don’t ask. But the night is very short. There go the festival fires in the sky, and the birds.”
Tomãs put out his hand. The Martian did likewise in imitation.
Their hands did not touch; they melted through each other.
“Will we meet again?”
“Who knows? Perhaps some other night.”
“I’d like to go with you to that festival.”
“And I wish I might come to your new town, to see this ship you speak of, to see these men, to hear all that has happened.”